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Alyx Baldwin

Thank You
Thesis Instructors
Scott Pobiner, Sarah Butler

Technical (&/or Hacker) Advisement
Corinna “Elektra” Aichele, Sean McIntyre,
Jeetu Golani, Erle Pereira, Isaac Wilder, Eleanor

Thesis Advisor
Liz Barry
Red Hook Initiative
Primary Collaborator
Tony Schloss

“Dymaxion” Saitta, Rui Aguiar
Additional Advisement
Melanie Crean, David Carroll, Chris
Csikszentmihalyi, Ted Byfield

Community Change Workers
Khadija Toni Jones-James, Reg Flowers, Daniel

Berkman Center at Harvard University,
Rutgers University, Contact Summit,

Aiken, Carlos Viveros, Alisa Pizarro, and Nyoka

Forskningsavdelningen Hackerspace

Youth Radio Group
Nykia Williams, Shakima Hayes, Jocelyn Rivera,

Fredrika Thelandersson, MFADT, Magnus
Eriksson, Alicia Solow-Niederman, Aram

Charlene Pratt, Jazz-hane Wade, Tabitha Roman,

Sinnreich, John Pavlik, Biella Coleman,

and Mohammed Martinez

Venessa Miemis,, Milliways

Additional Individuals
Anthony Fatato, Azula Crawford, Tiwan Burrus
Open Technology Initiative, New America
Joshua Breitbart, Greta Byrum, Josh King
Becky Kazansky
Social Advisement
Laura Forlano, Panayotis Antoniadis, Alison Powell

Village at Chaos Communication Camp (esp., Freifunk, Funkfeuer, Ninux, Edward
T. Hall III, Paul Gardner-Stephen, The Doctor,, Wonkette, Club

Wireless mesh networks provide low-cost, shared Internet access to communities. Socially
engaged users on these interconnected devices are also more resilient against threats that
cripple centralized communication infrastructures, like censorship and natural disaster.
However, for long term use, community networks need ritualized, face to face interaction
between residents, and localized incentives.
Working with the Red Hook Initiative and OTI at New America Foundation, TidePools is
tailoring custom social software. This project is based on local needs and interests of the
Red Hook Housing Projects – a community located in a remote area of Brooklyn, with little
public WiFi and a portion of Internet access through Android phones and public computer
Visually inspired by local artwork, this “Ushahidi” meets “The Sims” hyper-local mapping
web app is delivered to mobile and desktop devices through meshed WiFi routers. In this
way, TidePools augment communication and civic awareness from the ground up, through
modular, user-generated population of maps.
TidePools evolved over months of community meetings, brainstorming sessions and
feedback through a message forum on the WiFi network. Creating and sharing custom
maps emerged from the desire to plot Alerts of where police “stop and frisks” were
occurring. Broken building signs led to integration of Open311 civic issue tracking. Bus
arrival alerts came from the sparse, inconsistent public transportation in the area. Spreading
awareness of locations and times of Upcoming Meetings & Events soon followed.
For sustained networks, API aggregation onto a global map and a community app
marketplace would stimulate a pan-regional, ecosystem of sharing. In order to counteract
the instability of wireless grassroots networks past the community level, metropolitan and
policy involvement are necessary.

Anthony Schloss, interview by author, digital recording, Outpost Cafe, Brooklyn, New York, October
25, 2011.

Footage still by Becky Kazansky

I dove into the world of mesh following the Arab Spring, in response to the communication
shutdowns in Egypt1. Other threats of Internet censorship and outages, such as SOPA, ACTA,
“Internet Kill Switches,” as well as natural disasters, further fueled my focus. I wasn’t the only
one motivated by this dystopian vision of what the Internet could become. Although many
distributed networks existed before the Arab Spring, an overwhelming number of efforts,
such as Commotion Wireless, The Free Network Foundation, Mondonet (Rutgers University),
Project Meshnet (Reddit), Project Byzantium, and The Berkman Center at Harvard Mesh
Workshop, developed in the aftermath.
Mesh is messy and hectic. Mesh networks are structured horizontally, allowing all devices
to talk to each other without a centralized infrastructure (like a cellphone tower). Mesh is
political. “It’s emotional...,” as Becky Kazansky once said. Pockets of mesh building efforts
are scattered around the world, fueled by a variety of academic, hacker-activist, economic
and sociological motives. Few efforts overlap, as language, politics and technical barriers
obstruct collaboration. When they do merge, the people involved tend to know each other
through mutual friendships and related organizations.
MeshKit Prototype
The images on the left are from a mobile mesh game and build-your-own WiFi hardware
instructional I developed first year of the master’s program, after the Internet outages in
Egypt. It used peer to peer sharing and social capital (coins and gems) to theoretically drive
network building. Raph Koster’s deconstruction of social gaming mechanics2 in Farmvillestyle games (how to addict players to a game), as well as “Community Building Over
Wireless Mesh Networks,” on the social layer of mesh3 influenced this direction.
In the summer, I presented initial research at Forskningsavdelningen hackerspace in Malmö,
Sweden, during a Hacknight event. Afterwards, I attended Chaos Communication Camp
(CCC) outside Berlin, Germany, at an old army base nestled deep in a rainy forest. A lot of
people I would work with later in my research were unknowingly in attendance as well, at
Dean Takahashi, “Egypt’s internet shutdown sparks a communications battle,” Venture Beat, January
28, 2011, accessed April 16, 2012,
Raph Koster, “Social Mechanics, The Engines Behind Everything Multiplayer” (slides presented at the
Game Developers Conference, San Francisco, California, February 28-March 4, 2011).
Panayotis Antoniadis et al, “Community Building over Neighborhood Wireless Mesh Networks,”
(Draft accepted for publication at IEEE Technology and Society, Special Issue on Potentials and Limits of
Cooperation in Wireless Communications, March 2008).

Prototype imagery re-mixed from Zynga’s Treasure Isle

this week long camping-oriented convention – an European Burning Man. A spectrum of
hackers, activists and scholars attend this hectic festival every four years. There’s a constant
feed of hacking teach-ins, presentations, flying quadrocoptors and music swirling through
the grounds.
I came to the camp to learn more about the technical work already covered in wireless
network community efforts, specifically those of FunkFeuer and Freifunk (Austrian and
German networks, respectively). I befriended a group of hackers that ran the Milliways (The
Restaurant at the End of the Universe) village, where I camped out in a discount sporting
tent and helped to cook huge meals for hundreds of others from around CCC – a Milliways
tradition. The campsite, seated near an abandoned airplane, was equipped with a kitchen
tent, a brick pizza oven, a huge, yellow geodesic dome, and several hacking tents emitting
a constant hum from the huge power supplies and LAN switches. Another tent housed
an endless supply of German beer kegs. One night, the Italian Cyber Police Chief and his
extended family drove a car full of ingredients from Italy to cook for us a divine pasta dish
loaded with pancetta. It is still unclear what the ulterior motive of this offering was, but it
tasted fantastic.
Jeetu Golani and Erle Pereira, developing the mesh application “eBrainPool,” are fantastic
cooks of Keema Masala and other Indian dishes. They suggested I locate Corinna “Elektra”
Aichele, who had worked with the popular OLSR mesh protocol in the past, and currently
with Village Telco – bringing low-cost, community based meshed telephone networks to
developing countries.1
Meeting with Elektra was an enlightening and sobering experience to the gritty realities
of working on mesh networks. We laid down on a sunny patch of grass near Milliways, and
discussed the social and technical problems related to mesh communities:
Mesh networks will never replace the Internet (the Internet is inherently a mesh until the “last
mile”), HD pornographic videos consistently bog down community networks, it’s grueling work
to update routers with new firmware in people’s homes, bandwidth speed cuts in half with every
mesh hop, networks need backbones, etc.
My assumptions and blind optimism around mesh were ripped out of me, and I was set on a
new course – social and community development in this very technical space.


Village Telco, accessed October 14, 2011,

A summer storm rolled in and we crouched under the geodesic dome, where she wrote
down a list of all the trendy, inexpensive routers and antennas I should be using in my work
– TP-Link and Ubiquiti brands, which it turns out, everyone, from Free Network Foundation
to Commotion Wireless, uses today.
I tagged along with some young hackers (including from the Freifunk
network in Frankfurt to setup a Ubiquiti powered mesh network (using the B.A.T.M.A.N.
Advance protocol). We wore bright yellow emergency jackets and climbed up a slippery,
grass slope, blanketed over an old aircraft hanger. They taught me the essentials of setting
up a mesh, or “illuminating the field,” by plugging in and angling directional antennas
towards other antennas. I learned a lot at CCC, and was prepared to take on the social layer
of mesh networking, from a community perspective, in the next semester.

Where are the networks?
Why aren’t more wireless mesh network communities prevalent in the world? What social
and technical factors lead to successful community and municipal networks? These
questions led me to find that mesh networks pop up most often and live the longest in
harsh topographical, socio-economic and/or political conditions.
The Athens Wireless Network, is one of the largest community networks in the world, with
over 3,000 members. It was built by techies in 2002, when Athens didn’t have high speed
Internet access. The geographical scattering of the Greek Islands made mesh topology an
ideal solution. 1
The Freifunk network in Berlin, Germany, was very prevalent, until the socio-economic
situation improved and some people moved away from this community-owned option.
The “network wasn’t offering additional content or services or something of value that
would keep [one] there.,”2 Laura Forlano, an expert on social community networks, said in an
Tibetan exiles, living in steep villages up in the Himalayan Mountains, teamed with
members of the Cult of the Dead Cow hacking group. Together, they built an ad hoc mesh
network between villages to connect residents together and to the rest of the Internet.3
To gain a better understanding of the social environment inside these pockets of wireless
community networks, a qualitative, survey was developed. There were questions on
reciprocity between members, individual roles in the network, dealing with malicious users,
how often the mesh building team met in real life, and personal optimism about the mesh
network itself. The survey auto-translated into a variety of languages, and I sent out survey
requests to many community wireless mailing lists – the primary form of communication for
a majority of these networks.
Based off survey results and interviews with social and technical mesh experts, Laura
Forlano, Alison Powell, Panayotis Antoniadis, and Rui Aguiar, a primary social need for
Laura Forlano et al., “From the Digital Divide to Digital Excellence: Global best practices to aid development of municipal and community wireless networks in the United States” (New America Foundation,
2011), 41-42.
Laura Forlano, interview by author, digital recording, Joe The Art of Coffee, New York City, October
03, 2011.
Xeni Jardin, “Wireless Binds Tibetan Exiles,” Wired, August, 17, 2006, accessed May 4, 2011, http://

networks to thrive are weekly or monthly community meetings that lead to face to face
interactions between mesh builders and community organizers. From this need, goals
emerge to augment this interaction:

Social Software Goals:
Civic and community engagement, by addressing local needs, interests and culture.
Foster Trust, Interdependence, and Reciprocity from within communities.1
Merge digital and physical community spaces.
Ensure people know about mesh / have software installed before a
communication outage.

Panayotis Antoniadis et al, “Community Building over Neighborhood Wireless Mesh Networks,”
(Draft accepted for publication at IEEE Technology and Society, Special Issue on Potentials and Limits of
Cooperation in Wireless Communications, March 2008).

Social Software
Bookshelves & Refrigerators
“Can wireless technology, peer-to-peer systems and social software help to build
sustainable and convivial neighborhood communities?” Nethood, a collaboration by
social scientists, urban planners, and computer scientists, asks this question in one of their
research papers, “Places on the Net.” 1
Nethood’s overarching theme is the concept of hybrid space – a merger of digital and
physical space in a community setting. Intrigued by this concept, I prototyped interfaces
that blended analog and digital. 2
Digital and physical media merged together, such as hardcover books and e-books, and LP
records and MP3s, into personal, networked media- shelves. A user can show off their media
shelf of “stuff” to friends, like having a bookshelf in the living room showing off your favorite
titles. This is important for underlying communication between users.3 When guests visit
and glance at your shelf, conversations about similar interests in the author, director, genre,
etc. arise.
A neighbor could walk to your home and borrow a physical LP record. Or, they could
download the digital MP3s from you over the community network. Borrowing physical
items increases face to face interactions between neighbors – a necessary step to build trust
in community networks. Borrowing digital items further incentivizes the need for a reliable
and fast community network to exist.
Another prototype, a hybrid fridge, merged all physical fridges in a community, into one
digital fridge. Items in this fridge interface would include shared items, such as eggs or
sugar, yesterday’s leftovers, or the latest produce from community gardens / food co-ops. “...
[S]ignaling to people their similarities, and their differences...”4 in tastes and cuisines, could
build an underlying awareness of others in the community, Laura Forlano said, about the

Ileana Apostol, Panayotis Antoniadis, and Tridib Banerjee, “Places on the Net” (University Pierre and
Marie Curie, University of Southern California, 2009), 1-2.
NetHood, accessed October 19, 2011,
Amy Jo. Kim, “Putting the Fun in Functional: Applying Game Mechanics to Functional Software”
(slides presented at a Google Tech Talk, Mountain View, California, January 30, 2009),
Laura Forlano, interview by author.

Beaches & Tide pools
Tide pools are sheltered microcosms scattered along beaches. Tiny worlds grow in each
one, with similarities between neighboring pools, but always something distinct. When
the tide comes in due to our orbiting Moon, the pools mix, the soups gets redivided, some
stuff stays, other things leave to the greater ocean. A cross-pollination occurs, cultures mix,
gentrification, de-gentrification, a fish migrates from the very first pool to somewhere near
the end of the chain. The Internet is an ocean. Communities are tide pools.
“What would be it to offer a technology that make space legible in radically different ways?”
Dourish and Bell question in Divining a Digital Future, to “maintain an essential identity while
adapting to local conditions.”1 They propose a shift in mobile interfaces that move away
from Cartesian grid coordinates (regular maps) to instead focus on the relationships and
histories of people in relevance to each other, the spaces they inhabit, and move through.
Considering this fluidity, and Yochai Benkler’s emphasis on granularity of control at the user
level2, an initial interface concept for TidePools made it possible to add more landmarks to
the community space that may not represent an exact area. This modularity would allow
the “map” or another representation of the community to shift with the ebb and flow of
culture at the community level. For example, in Red Hook, through geographic nicknames
informally assigned to areas in the community, such as “Sly Town” and “Paradise.”
Additionally, Will Wright, the creator of Sim City and The Sims, emphasized the need for
designers to “give players a large possibility space,” by creating open systems for maximum
personal customization, which leads to a community of “player created content.” 3 This
notion was carried through to the “loose” landmark plotting interface in TidePools and new
map crafting.
Along with adding landmarks to this less defined space, allowing users to put additional
landmarks inside other landmarks allows residents to dive deeper into the buildings and
landmarks around the community (e.g. User < Community Group < Recreation Center <
Coffey Park < Red Hook < Brooklyn < New York City). It is also a means to scale data, as
these fractal social network patterns are observed throughout “...hierarchical mammalian
societies” – when one zooms in or out of a network, the ratio between nodes remains
Paul Dourish and Genevieve Bell, “Divining a Digital Future: Mess and Mythology in Ubiquitous
Computing” (Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press, 2011), 135.
Yochai Benkler, “Wealth of Networks” (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2006), 103-113.
Will Wright, “Lessons from Game Design” (discussion at SD Forum, Computer History Museum,
Mountain View, California, November, 20, 2003),

Circles inside circles as a design pattern throughout the project conveys fractal social circles,
and reflects upon the “soap bubble” eternal inflation of multiverse in theoretical physics.
Wherein, an infinite number of universes, represented as individual soap bubbles, contain
varying laws of physics and time, while constantly expanding and contracting in and out of
a fractaled existence.2
Collaborative Mapping
Working with the Red Hook Initiative and the Open Technology Initiative at New America
Foundation, TidePools is tailoring a custom mapping platform, based on local needs and
interests, for the Red Hook Housing Projects – a remote and unconnected area of Brooklyn.
At the same time, it is bringing low cost wireless mesh Internet access to residents.
TidePools is an “Ushahidi” (crisis mapping) meets “The Sims” crowd-sourced mapping
platform for the expression of culture and community needs at the local level. Users can
add various landmarks to the local map or create their own custom maps. A Twitter-like feed
of announcements and discussions from active landmarks are aggregrated into a personal
community news stream.
When a resident connects to a “Red Hook Initiative WiFi” hotspot, they are automatically
sent to the TidePools interactive maps of Red Hook first, (a captive portal, or community toll
booth) before they can leave for the rest of the Internet.
While some buildings and landmarks are permanent, such as schools and the Red Hook
Initiative, residents can add their own Events, Memories, Friends, Groups, Alerts, Fix This,
Food, and Others. Others can follow and comment on these landmarks. The visual aspects
of the mapping platform were inspired by local mural artwork, the iconic brick building
architecture, and native flora.

Russell A Hill, “Network scaling reveals consistent fractal pattern in hierarchical mammalian societies” (Durham, United Kingdom, The Royal Society, 2008), 1.
Andrei Linde, “The Self-Reproducing Inflationary Universe” (Scientific American Presents, Scientific
American, 1998), 98-100.

Design Narrative
While our plan could have been to build as many nodes as possible within Red Hook, from
December 2011 to May 2012, I took a different approach than what has been done, often
unsuccessfully, in the past. I wasn’t as interested in whether a mesh network could be
technically constructed – instead, I wanted to reverberate my past research and discussions
with experts in the social aspects of community networks. It’s not about the technology,
the technology works and isn’t going anywhere. Communities, on the other hand, fluctuate
immensely over time. I wanted to capture the Red Hook community in flux, and build a
platform from the ground up with the community members. An interface that would be
modular and open enough to fluctuate as the community grows and changes. Only then
would the platform be brought to a technical mesh network.

Map of Red Hook, Brooklyn, Bing Maps, accessed May 6, 2012,

October 2, 2011
An analysis on networked community roles at Occupy Wall Street, I wrote during the first
week of the occupation of Zuccotti Park, was published on the DC politico gossip blog I received an email from Joshua Breitbart at the Open Technology Initiative,
New America Foundation (they are working in Detroit and Philadelphia on community
mesh development with their Commotion wireless platform). He had found my thesis
research through that article, and was particularly intrigued by the social layer of mesh
community networks I was advocating. After a phone meeting, he put me in touch with
Tony Schloss at the Red Hook Initiative, a community center for the Red Hook Housing
Projects in Brooklyn. Tony was hoping to bring a community wireless network to the Red
Hook community. It was a perfect fit, as I was looking for a community to work with on my
November 1, 2011
After an initial coffee meeting with Tony at Outpost Café (the best), wherein we mapped
out rough plans on where to set up mesh nodes, I rode my bike the next week, from Clinton
Hill/Bed Stuy to Tony’s place near Coffey Park, in Red Hook.
Red Hook is a unique area of Brooklyn. The majority of New Yorkers, and, in particular,
Manhattanites who take the water taxi over here, know the area as where Ikea, Fairway
market and artists seeking urban isolation in giant lofts hide out. But the Red Hook Houses,
more inland than the well known ocean-lined area, is where I was biking to.
This area, considered part of South Brooklyn, is one of the most isolated regions of New York
City, due to a significant lack of consistent public transportation within a mile (1.6km) plus

radius. In a city known for it’s nearly ubiquitous transit system, Red Hook remains known as
one of the last urban deserts in the area.
The Red Hooking Housing Projects are the largest housing development in Brooklyn, with
over 8,000 residents.1 There is little public WiFi access, while a portion of the residents access
the Internet through Android smart phones and computer stations. 2 A special vibe blankets
the Red Hook area. The comparative isolation, mixed with the industrial and nautical
landscape, and endless zig-zagged walls of red brick buildings leads to a socially vibrant
and buzzing atmosphere.
As the winter months set in, I gave up biking and resorted to the subway (the B61 bus
schedule is a running joke in the area, as it hardly ever shows up at all). For the past year
and a half, the nearest stop (Smith-Ninth Street) off the F & G has been closed for repairs,
so the next closest, Carroll St. is the only option. Walking the twenty minutes from Carroll
Gardens to Red Hook reveals the socio-economic contrast between the two neighborhoods
physically bunched up next to each other. The inevitable crawl of gentrification in Carroll
Gardens stops sharply with the massive, double-wide freeway that cuts Red Hook off from
the rest of Brooklyn.

Back to November 1st, 2011
After arriving at Tony’s place, we walked our bikes to the rectangular Coffey Park, a
scattered tree-lined expanse on the northwest end of the Red Hook Houses. While making
our way into the grass-lined pathways cutting through the towering red brick housing
buildings overhead, we discussed where potential nodes could go. Eventually ending up at
the Red Hook Initiative (RHI), Tony introduced the community center as a promising home
base for the community wireless project.
The most distinctive aspect of RHI is the giant service garage door on the side of the two
story building. The inside is filled with bright, open spaces, multi-colored walls, and glass
paneling. There’s a computer room; a kitchen, offices, and a large area in the middle for
meetings and performances.

“Red Hook Justice: About Red Hook,” PBS, accessed April 13, 2012,
Anthony Schloss, interview by author, digital recording, Outpost Cafe, Brooklyn, New York, October
25, 2011.

November 8, 2011
Initial technical tests using two Ubiquiti Nanostations and a Bullet were conducted in
Coffey Park, which gave us a chance to become familiar with the equipment we would be
deploying throughout the community in the coming months.
Dec 6, 2011
After much planning, the first node, a Ubiquiti Nanostation M2, was taped and zip-tied
around a tripod affixed to a tire, on the roof of RHI. Since it’s a directional antenna, the
radio waves fan out like a peacock plume. As RHI is located on a corner, facing two adjacent
streets of Red Hook Houses, this cheap and powerful antenna can beam all the way down to
the ends of both streets, sharing WiFi access with residents along the way.
December 8, 2011
This night was extremely wet and windy – I was worried about our freshly installed antenna.
Tony texted me. The setup had blown over, but was still functioning. “The moral is, we need
sandbags,” he wrote.
The RHI Local Website - A Captive Portal
After the antenna had been running on the roof of RHI for a few weeks, the first iteration
of a mobile community website was installed on the router (the same custom openWRT
Linux router used to handle the Internet, a TP-Link WR1043nd). When someone connected
to the open wireless entitled “Red Hook Initiative WiFi,” they were redirected to the local RHI
website first, a captive portal, before they could go to the rest of the Internet (like the page
that pops up when logging onto free WiFi at a store).
This was inspired by an earlier community network in Montreal, “Île Sans Fil,” which aims to
socially engage users locally at WiFi enabled coffee shops by redirecting to a page showing
other users on the network.1 Île Sans Fil had developed WiFi Dog, the captive portal and
authentication server, for use on their network, with morphed variants such as AuthPuppy,
NoCat, NoCatSplash, etc. I chose to go with a “no frills” variant called NoDogSplash, which, in
the end, didn’t have anything to do with domesticated animals.
This initial RHI WiFi based website served as an interactive placeholder to gauge a level
of interest among community members. The “R” banner graphic at the top is a collective
symbolic identity for Red Hook residents. Along with admin controlled RHI announcements
at the top of the page (including upcoming LGBTQ meeting times), an anonymous
Alison Powell, “Co-productions of Technology, Culture and Policy in North America’s Community
Wireless Networking Movement” (Concordia University, 2008), 58-59.

shoutbox, or public forum, was installed to promote a free flowing discussion of the
network itself. The first question was “What do you think of the project?” This garnered a
large range of responses that evolved over the next few weeks.

Checked responses on Jan. 18th
In linear order, earliest post to latest, by “Name (or Nickname)” and “Shout!”:
E.g. Name (or Nickname)

E.g. Shout! comment

H ghjmjtyjmthnm

it sucks
dat nigga

It blowz chunkz

Fuck you!!!!!!!!

Fuck you!!!!!!!!

Jan. 20th:
These responses were not unwarranted, as the interface at the time was not robust or
completely functional across all mobile/desktop devices. I fixed a lot of interface problems
with the captive portal and RHI website that I imagine made users frustrated. After the
major problems were addressed, more thoughtful responses came in from the community
network users.
Checked responses on Jan. 25th:

The project needs to be more attended as far as repairs.

want to know more about the actual initiative


Cool jus don’t keep askin

its good i just hate how it cuts to this screen

Blow the big one

hope you work out the kinks

Checked responses on Feb. 1st:

Its OK...

is a great project

Good so far, at least some one cares enough to open resources for those who don’t

have. Those who use this hotspot should appreciate RHI and for what they are doing.

Listen, thanks for the internet and all, but this site fucking sucks! Im constantly losing

work im doing online because of this project and its really fucking annoying. Fix it

You need to fix the problem cuz it keeps kicking everyone off grr
The conversation grows in complexity over time, announcing specific problems with longer
descriptions. I was told that Victoria, who was a very dedicated network user, had actually
called Red Hook Initiative to complain about the service problems with the network. After
this round of feedback, combined with the previous one, Tony and I deduced that it was a
problem with the authentication timeout of the NoDogSplash captive portal. Essentially,
if someone on the network wasn’t loading new websites for 20 minutes, it would redirect
back to the RHI website.

I adjusted the timeout to over an hour. Afterwards, there were no more complaints on the
shout box about this problem. A few weeks later, more feedback came in by word of mouth
that the antenna on top of RHI wasn’t working (which made using the shoutbox to report
the problem impossible).
Although there was criticism from the Youth Radio Group that an anonymous shoutbox
was not a good idea (detailed in the next section), benefits to having a feedback system
in place allowed us to make incremental adjustments and fixes to the network. While the
main interaction has adjusted to populating maps, the twitter-like waterfall interface of
these tests have been carried over, while favoring logged in profiles for posting. Retaining a
backchannel of semi-anonymous twitter feed for unfiltered critique is theoretically essential
for long term technical and social network sustainability.

January 18, 2012: Youth Radio Group (Brainstorming)
Red Hook Initiative employs teenaged Red Hook residents as interns, to help develop their
own online radio station – RHI Radio. They “learn the history of radio, develop technical
skills, and learn how to conduct interviews.” The impetus for the project is to encourage
“young people to express and share their ideas and views of the issues that impact their
lives.” 1

– if not, when and how that would happen. I explained the difference between directional
(WiFi that beams longer distances in one way), versus omnidirectional (going all ways in a
shorter distance). They asked me about costs (I was juggling a mess of routers, antennas
and cables in my arms at this point), and they were fairly psyched that it was so cheap to
share WiFi with the Ubiquiti and TP-Link equipment I use.
We moved on to talking about the current captive portal RHI website, which, upon logging
into the network and viewing on her phone, caused Jocelyn to react vehemently against it.
“Who is this ‘deadmule,’” she asked of a commenter on the website, “no no it shouldn’t be
anonymous – people will say some wild stuff on here.” The others in the group seemed to
agree (or, at least not voice opposition). While user profiles were always planned, I had never
heard an argument against anonymous users on a network before – previous encounters
with DIY WiFi hackers had always been shrouded in pseudo-names and anonymous
handles. It seemed that rule number one in this field was always anonymity, but perhaps I
was immensely unaware of how non-hackerish individuals react on a community level, and
how this related to passive, long term trust relationships.

The Youth Radio Group (YRG) is the first group I was able to brainstorm community software
with. This included: Nykia Williams, Shakima Hayes, Jocelyn Rivera, Charlene Pratt, Jazz-hane
Wade, Tabitha Roman, and Mohammed Martinez.

As the discussion into this concept continued, Jocelyn reinforced her argument: “...[you]
need to know who said [this] bad stuff, so you can do something about it...people are more
brave and likely to say something negative.” This is quite true, looking at the countless
stories of anonymous web pages set up to demean select people at schools, workplaces,
etc. Perhaps accountability is a form of trust. But, there’s still a place for anonymity, even at
the community level.

It was a fitting start, as January 18th was the day that a majority of the U.S. Internet blacked
out their websites in some fashion to protest the bill, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)2. This
very tangible example of censorship and communication disruption, which SOPA might
have led to, was a perfect segue into discussing a special Red Hook run Intranet, not
necessarily connected to the rest of the Internet – a network that wasn’t directly threatened
by SOPA, PIPA, ACTA or other mutations of these Internet-control bills.

Weighing in the feedback collected from the anonymous RHI shout box webpage on the
WiFi network, there were tangible benefits to enabling a back chatter channel to relieve
social tensions and provide technical support. The balancing of trust might be more difficult
than I had originally assumed. Having to sign in to contribute to the network was received
well by the YRG teens, especially when I assured them that myself or someone in charge,
like an admin, could ban trouble makers from the website.

We kicked off talking about “media access as a right,” as Tony referred to it. The teens were
mostly interested in whether or not the current WiFi on top of RHI would reach their house

We moved on to discussing potential uses for a Red Hook website. “It would be cool to tell
people what’s going on in Red Hook,” but nobody wanted to meet new people or keep up
with friends over the network: “that’s what Facebook is for.” Tony asked what would keep
people intrigued with Red Hook – the group responded: “people don’t care [about Red
Hook],” while the idea of a game about Red Hook would get people to pay attention. Also, “...
jobs, jobs in Red Hook,” Jocelyn said.

“RHI Radio 2012,” Red Hook Initiative, accessed April 2, 2012,
David A. Fahrenthold, “SOPA protests shut down Web sites,” The Washington Post, January 18, 2012,
accessed April 3, 2012,

The idea for “a map of Red Hook, that is not like a Google Map...” was introduced. What could
be put on the map? “...only stuff that Red Hook people would know” – what kind of stuff
would that be? “The weed spots,” “No, you can’t put that on there,” “Then the cops would
know...” A short discussion ensued on creating private maps for friends to share these spots.
Although we were half-joking around, the idea of creating and sharing custom maps of
anything, amongst trusted friends or the public, resonated further into the project.
We moved on to discussing the nicknames of areas around Red Hook that exist in a kind
of fuzzy geography, such as Trip Towers, Paradise, The Circle, Flagpole, Sly Town, etc., and
whether putting these areas on a map would be useful (in a much later meeting with
the Community Change Workers, this did prove to be beneficial). These names aren’t all
consistent on a multi-generational perspective, which makes it all the more interesting and
useful for community mapping on a hyper-local, time-based level.
“You could make a map just for local businesses,” Mohammed said, “and put some of these
[WiFi] towers on top of the businesses...and they can list their times, hours, and whatever
they sell.” Working with businesses in the area to mount network antennas, while providing
local information about the businesses on the community map, could prove to be an
interesting future incentive for network growth.

Alternative Maps in Counter Public Spaces
Creating and sharing these alternative maps (or interpretations) of the Red Hook
community through the TidePools interface recalled the last episode of David Lynch’s Twin
Peaks television show. Agent Cooper enters a counter public space when visiting the Black/
White lodge. It exists outside of the visible spectrum – one can only enter through a ring of
sycamore trees, when Jupiter and Saturn are in alignment. 1
Is this similar to entering alternative spaces through WiFi gateways? Could a wireless
network be interpreted as an alternative room/space/world? Can one create their own
custom room/space/world? Will they allow others (friends, similar groups, community) to
enter their custom spaces? What happens when multiple people on a network create their
own rooms? Does it become a shared, counter public space? Does it eventually grow to a
virtual city?

Michael Warren, “Twin Peak: One and the Same,” Entertainment Guide Film TV, October 6, 2011,
accessed May 2, 2012,

David Lynch, “Twin Peaks,” television show, episode 2.22, 1991.

Counter-Public, Community Intranet

Michael Warner’s “counter publics” theory1 is referred to in Alison Powell’s community
networking thesis, as separate, autonomous spaces for groups and people that lie outside
the majority.2 In networking, this is the difference between a self-contained, local intranet
and the rest of the world-wide Internet. These counter public spaces can merge with the
public, remain isolated, or share only certain information outside their alternative space.

Local Area
Network (LAN)

In “Divining a Digital Future,” Dourish and Bell write that the Warlpiri and Kaiditch peoples
of central Australia believe a separate Dream state exists, outside of the normal world.
The dreamscape “carr[ies] the resonances of human activities and events...[that] leave
their impact on the land...[the] experience of the landscape is thus a cultural one.”3 Can a
community interface convey long periods of time within geographic counter public/public
communities, by making the passage of time visualized and tangible?

January 25, 2012: Community Change Workers (Brainstorming)
Red Hook Initiative employs Community Change Workers (CCWs), who “...[work] to improve
the neighborhood by mobilizing and educating the residents of the Red Hook Houses.”4 The
CCWs I worked with: Khadija Toni Jones-James, Reg Flowers, Daniel Aiken, Carlos Viveros,
Alisa Pizarro, and Nyoka Acevedo, are involved with a wide range of activist and community
organizations and group meetings in the neighborhood.
After working with the Youth Radio Group, it was beneficial to gain perspective on Red
Hook from the young adults and middle-aged residents that comprise the CCWs – such as
Alisa and Khadija, who have been living in Red Hook for over twenty years.
The discussion began with an introduction to our overall goals and the current state of
the captive portal Red Hook website, which was warmly received, but led to a discussion
about residents, including some CCWs, that don’t have smartphones to access the WiFi. “I
don’t have a new-fangled phone like that,” Khadija said, “[but] I’m going to get one.” Future
plans of providing subscription-based community announcements texted to phones to all
residents was encouraged by Khadija: “That’s a way we can reach people, because they’ll be
more apt to want to come because they’ll know what going on...Red Hook is like a word of
Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York, NY: Zone Books, 2002), 115-117.
Alison Powell, “Co-productions of Technology, Culture and Policy in North America’s Community
Wireless Networking Movement” (Concordia University, 2008), 58-59.



Paul Dourish and Genevieve Bell, “Divining a Digital Future: Mess and Mythology in Ubiquitous
Computing” (Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press, 2011), 80-81.
“Community Development,” Red Hook Initiative, accessed April 2, 2012,

mouth kind of thing...”
Reg brought interesting incite next. He discussed the possibilities in bringing in a
LETSystem, skill share or other types of informal learning to the system, as well as learning
circles (i.e. book clubs), alternative currencies and local business startup integration.
His comments reinforced earlier research I had conducted in the area of reciprocal and
micro exchange economies as applied to community mesh, in which long term social
sustainability of these networks should encourage alternative, grassroots initiatives. While
out of the scope of the current project’s focus, this is still a potentially critical step towards
a resident-powered community network that will come into play later on as the network

Footage shot by Becky Kazansky

An interactive community bulletin board idea came up next, including resume posting,
announcing jobs in the community (and what the requirements are), and, in particular, an
interest in sharing when upcoming meetings will be taking place. “If more people knew
about Occupy Red Hook, they’d get involved,” Khadija said, “...especially with the Stop and
Frisk situation...parents ask: ‘Where can I go to make it safe for my children to walk around
the neighborhood without the police stopping and frisking’...we don’t live in a Police State,
people need to know what’s going on in Red Hook.”
There’s been a rise in stop and frisks by the NYPD in the last few years.1 At a later meeting, I
noticed a Stop & Frisk questionnaire being distributed to the community, as well as photos
mounted to poster board of RHI members participating in a Stop & Frisk legislative event
at City Hall with other community organizations from across NYC.2 Utilizing the community
software as a digital extension of the analog reporting and campaigning that RHI members
are already employing could help to augment awareness to non-residents.
What other issues could be addressed? Khadija was quick to reply: “I’m behind on rent, who
can I talk to, my mother’s disabled, we live on the 12th floor and looking for an apartment
for her on a lower medicaid is about to run out, my child came home, beaten
up, where do I go? Who do I talk to?” This initial list was the inspiration for a Community
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) integration into the website and mapping interface
developed at a later meeting.
Ryan Devereaux, “Stop-and-frisk challenge: Rights group uses NYPD data to claim racial bias,” Raw
Story, May 9, 2012, accessed May 9, 2012,
Javier Soriano, “New Yorkers United to End “Stop-and-Frisk” and Discriminatory Policing,”, February 29, 2012, accessed May 2, 2012,

The conversation shifted when Carlos brought up the idea of some kind of instant
messenger, that lets people know when others are in the Red Hook area and leave
messages. Daniel was quick to interject: “...that’s dangerous...what if Carlos got beef with
someone and they know he’s back in the neighborhood?” Reg: “If you have beef with
someone, if you’re hiding out, you probably wouldn’t log on.” As in the last discussion with
Jocelyn’s comment about anonymity, this was another aspect of privacy and security to
consider. The solution boiled down to a voluntary check-in system, which could be used for
locations, meetings, events, or anything else on the network.
Near the end of the session, the conversation turned more conceptual, as Reg recalled
early Internet bulletin boards, specifically NYCnet from 1996, that had a tight knit, fresh
community feel. That feeling has been lost since – those proto-social media, free form
channels of communication have been replaced by more robust options, which at times
can boil down to “...just pollution...” (IRC retains some of that original feeling, but has a
high barrier of entry and will always remain cemented in the past). There’s a feeling there,
though, of asynchronous conversation – a latent, modular means of dialogue. As opposed
to the ultra fast, mobile synchronous chatting all over the Internet. “It’s not private
can see who stops a virtual community center,” Reg said, “...the idea that there’s a
lobby” where everyone checks in and then go to their respective groups, separated by many
small rooms, to discuss their respective topics.
“I like that way of phrasing it as a virtual community center,” I said. Reg replied: “Make sure,
when you write your diary that you...[mention]...’he was sitting there in his funny hat and
weird sweater...when he [Reg] coined the phrase: virtual community center.’” I hope I’ve
done justice for Reg’s request, although as I’m replaying the audio recording of the meeting,
I can’t remember the specific details of his hat or sweater to properly paint this narrative –
sorry Reg!
This many-roomed community center concept migrated into later iterations of the interface
– having a modular means of dropping in landmarks (chat rooms) to initiate new, Twitterlike asynchronous conversations one can follow. The virtual community center feel would
be maintained by restricting the map boundaries to the Red Hook area and combining all
custom maps and landmarks together on a “general map” before one can dive in further
or filter out unwanted information. This is akin to a billboard at a community center that is
changing over time as more and more layers of fliers are stapled on top of each other – or,
in this case, landmarks layered and clustered across the map. As one walks by the billboard,
going to a specific room (or the Internet, through a captive portal), they might notice a new

flier (landmark) that intrigues them.
As the meeting ended, the CCWs were very excited to show me a video they had just
finished editing. It was bringing light to a community wide issue of illegible, missing or
covered building numbers. As the Red Hook House buildings are very similar in appearance
and bunched together, the only differentiation is that of numbers painted on sides of the
red brick outer walls.
Neighbors, food delivery, even emergency vehicles have a hard time finding the right
building – which has caused many problems in the past. In a conversation later on with Liz
Barry, she suggested incorporating the Open311 civic issue tracking API (which NYC and
other cities use to catalog, track and address issues around the city). Recalling the building
number video, as well as a mention of a problem with potholes at one point, a special “Fix
This” landmark was included in TidePools.

Developing the Mapping Interface
After a few more interface discussions with Tony and Liz Barry (my thesis advisor, who is
also Director of Urban Environment at Public Laboratory and passionate about grassroots
mapping), the idea of a tangible map interface began to emerge. To start thinking about
how landmarks could “drop” onto the map, with the possibility of layers or other pseudo-3D
elements, I cut out pieces of colored and textured paper that indirectly resembled a mix of
Burrough’s Cut Up with a Jean Arp dada collage.
Liz and I drank tea, while I showed her a surreal map of Red Hook that morphed out of the
collage work. We talked open source mapping empowerment on a local level. Afterwards,
we played a bit of Minecraft – this game is similar to the “putting stuff on maps in large
possibility space” building mechanic that I’m using in this project, but for very different
Liz cut out a chunk of open source city data, and I layered it on top of an OpenStreetMap of
Red Hook. LeafletJS, an open source mapping platform fueling TidePool maps, is a shining
beacon of HTML5 and Javascript that runs tile maps from anywhere on the Internet or
hosted on a local (in this case, on a USB keychain) hard drive. I tried a few different mapping
programs to build code on top of. Leaflet was smoother than Google Maps, among others,
on Androids and laptops.
Leaflet lets you use your own custom maps, so I loaded it with the map tiles (map images at
different zooms) from TileMill. I now had the capability to run all the maps locally, on

very small and inexpensive computers (called plug servers), that essentially plug into the
wall like a night light (Freedom Box Foundation is also using these for their anti-censorship
project). Everything is geo-coordinated to other maps on the Internet, so when someone
drops a landmark at a certain location, it is recorded to be on the same street intersection
(or wherever) as all other maps.

February 7, 2012: Antenna Replacement and Network Software Maintenance
Becky Kazansky, a master’s student at ITP, NYU joined me at RHI to record footage for her
own thesis documentary, on alternative networks. It was a bit cold out, and we (Me, Becky,
and Tony) were on the rooftop of RHI. I needed to swap out the broken antenna with a new
one – I wonder if it was due to the heavy winds and rain from back in December...
February 15, 2012: Community Change Workers (Feedback & Focus)
After showing the current interfaces and the previous visual iteration, the Community
Change Workers in Red Hook responded very well to the “The Sims” – like visuals of
the neighborhood. The prospects of a visually diverse and expressive community view,
where anyone can create their own interpretation of the neighborhood (and add relevant
information) was received positively.
I showed the first prototype, a bare-bones map of Red Hook with 3D symbols layered on
top. At this point the pan, zoom and clicking on landmarks were the only features.
“It’s really interesting,...” Reg said – an organization he founded has a yearlong plan called
“The Vision of Red Hook.” It’s an art project which would theoretically take place within a
virtual Red Hook, where one aspect is the ability to zoom in and out and place one’s avatar
where they currently are (i.e. at Hope & Anchor restaurant). It’s encouraging to know that
others in the community are thinking on the same track, making my project all the more
relevant (and a potential platform host for the Vision of Red Hook).
I showed the “Sims” style map mockup to the group next. Carlos was the first to say it looked
like the Sims, while everyone else chimed in with “yeah, like the Sims” in an excited tone.
There was particular interest when I talked about one of the core mechanics of the
interface, the ability to create and share new maps with any theme, based on the discussion
from last time about making a special Stop and Frisk map. “Kind of like rooms in a chat,” Reg
said in agreement.
We talked about the community directory/community FAQ next, and the possibility of
listing these directory items on the map itself with additional information (like the phone

number). Khadija nodded, “the times different establishments are open, like for Fairway or
Ikea...” Incorporating business and organization hours into the map (as this map is all based
on cycles of time) came up a few times, which led to time based options when placing
landmarks (the landmark will glow when it is open, or when a meeting is about to / already
taking place, etc.).
I started to write community FAQ ideas on a giant piece of sketch paper, mentioning “I have
really bad hand writing by the, sorry.” Are you a doctor?” Reg asked, then said “no,
it’s not bad enough.” “You have the scrawl of a serial killer...” Khadija said jokingly “...I can see
‘time places are open’’re good.”
We proceeded to brainstorm a list of services, and other elements that would be important
assets for the FAQ and map. We talked about other languages the software would need to
be translated into, to include all Red Hook residents: Spanish, Arabic and Tagalog (Filipino).
We also discussed the idea of creating a kiosk center (loaded with the map software) near
the water taxi stop, where Manhattanites land when journeying to Ikea. Instead of just
shopping and hopping back on the boat, the kiosk might intrigue Ikea-goers to wander
around Red Hook and enjoy local restaurants or happening events.

On Google Maps at the Local Level
While continuing to write code for the mapping interface, I started to refine the artistic
style of the Red Hook map. I knew it shouldn’t look like a Google Map, as this map would
be generated from the ground up and should reflect the identity, culture, the feeling of
Red Hook, and the people who live here. While Google Maps and other general mapping
platforms are extremely good at what they do (navigate, provide macro perspectives
on nationwide trends, etc.), there’s a gap between static data, such as street names and
buildings, and what is actually going on in that physical location, day to day. I don’t blame
Google Maps for being ill-representative of mapped culture on a micro-level, the resources
to keep that up would be endlessly vast.
Instead, I believe that the communities can maintain this information locally themselves,
use it for their own means, and then, if they choose to, project it outwards (via an API or
RSS) to an aggregated map of all community networks connected to the Internet.
Usually, when zooming in on a map, you begin to lose perspective. Instead, you should
be able to gain more information about a location the closer you zoom in – this is the
philosophy behind Google Street View, which, again has its benefits, but does not capture
the day to day local conversation or cultural sentiment – only a static picture of what’s

Footage shot by Becky Kazansky

Map of Red Hook, Brooklyn, Google Maps, accessed May 6, 2012,

going on at a particular time.

March 7, 2012: Youth Radio Group (Feedback & Focus)
I had another feedback and focus meeting with the Youth Radio Group. When I showed the
first map interface prototype to the teens, without any style to it, they were not excited at
all. Honestly, this interactive map, although technically cool because it was all hosted locally
and running smoothly, looked very much like a Google Map (an OpenStreetMap, in this
case). But, when I showed the original map concept image, with all the crazy buildings, they
were much more intrigued.
With enthusiasm, they said it looked like the Sims (a reoccurring observance). We switched
back to the map interface design, after the game-like intent was clearer. There were minor
critiques over which symbols meant what (The Circle as Group and WiFi symbol were both
good, while the shape representing Events should be a star, not a trapezoid). We moved
on to the map style, in particular what the neighborhood schools should look like. It was
immediately clear the YRG teens weren’t interested in a direct translation of the school
buildings from real life – they are giant rectangular boxes. Instead, the intangible, expressive
quality of what the schools represent to the community, in particular the students who
attend, would be more important.
“Cartoonish...” “ should look like a giant brain,” was tossed around, and, in the end, the
pseudo-surreality of this image, a giant brain resting on a map, was carried over as a giant
apple resting on a stack of books, on top of the standard brick block building throughout
Red Hook **pictured*** (the apple with three books stacked underneath was inspired by
the Charter school’s information billboard graphics). This initial design concept of large
representative objects on top of buildings was later carried over to other permanent map
Afterwards, we talked about other incentives we could use to get people to contribute and
interact with the map. An interesting notion of rewarding top users with age appropriate
real world parties at RHI - a dance party for teens, a dinner party for adults - was proposed.
This was an intriguing embodiment of previous research into the need for face to face,
ritualized interaction among active community members, as well as bridging the gap
between physical and digital community spaces.
While this is a long term activity to incorporate, it is important to consider when bringing in
other measurements of social capital, role and contribution to the network (points, awards,
etc.) on a user’s profile. By overlaying real world incentives, in this case exclusive parties,

onto digital, rivalrous currency, it projects material value onto point/coin/badge collecting
mechanics. 1
These reciprocally exchanged currencies are also prevalent in socially networked games,
such as Draw Something or Farmville, that work off growth/leveling up cycles and a
constant flow of goods trading to keep players hooked – the million dollar question that
“gamification” heralds, is whether or not these mechanics truly translate into the real world.

Tina Kügler, “Village Map for Textbook,” JPG, accessed May 7, 2012,

March 14, 2012: Coffey Park Installation
The clear, warm day was a great time to ascend a rather tall rooftop in Red Hook to install
a new antenna to beam connectivity to Coffey Park and (theoretically, the “Trip Towers”
housing buildings as well, based on line of sight). It was quite windy up there, and of course
the ladders were old, rusted and wobbly. The ethernet cabling was strung all the way down
to Anthony Fatato’s apartment, the director of another Red Hook organization called WE
Endeavor, where a plug server and router were connected to it and hidden behind a dresser.
This node is self-contained and unconnected to the Internet. A temporary, “coming soon,
under construction” page was put up for people trying to connect. And yes, the under
construction image is an animated GIF.

Artistic Map & Landmark Styling
It was difficult to come up with a map style which would embody the sentiment of Red
Hook and be interesting to look at, but also functional as map data to sift through. With a
more expansive creative process (and more time), I would have enlisted local artists from
the community to help in this conceptualization and execution process. I propose that an
interface should be integrated to make it easy for local artists to swap out my imagery with
their own, in any community that wishes to create their own local TidePool network.
I started from “The Sims” isometric (pseudo-3D) building art direction that both the Youth
Radio Group and Community Change Workers recognized and responded to positively
(this familiarity is probably related to the ubiquity of the Sim franchise in popular culture
– to the point where it is a core mechanic in itself to build on top of...which is a very good
thing to do). I combined this with my observations into village/small city-oriented (usually
hand-drawn) maps, which highlight important landmarks by isolating and enlarging them,
resting on top of simple drawings of roadways.
Raph Koster, “Social Mechanics, The Engines Behind Everything Multiplayer” (slides presented at the
Game Developers Conference, San Francisco, California, February 28-March 4, 2011).

For a time, I was obsessed with the surreality and landmark oriented aspect of maps found
in the original Mario Bros. games (when navigating Mario from level to level). However,
the results of trying to convert this concept into a Red Hook map were muddy and
unintelligible. At this point, I was quite frustrated and felt a sense of futility about trying to
capture an artistic essence of Red Hook.
After a meeting with Liz, wherein we discussed a range of artistic styles, I set out on
catapulting off the stylings of Hundertwasser. I needed to break out of the mold of literal
translations of building styles, and this was a good start. I mocked up a concept interface
in this style and shared it with Tony. He didn’t feel it captured the sentiment of Red Hook,
neither the stylings of the nautical area around the docks, nor the Red Hook Houses tall
brick buildings. I felt more confident when he said I should just “go for it” and interpret the
area from my own experiences, because I had been working in Red Hook enough to capture
a personal sentiment.

Conor McGrady, “Red Hook through History,” Groundswell Community Mural Project , JPG, accessed May 6,

I fell back into browsing through my photos of the Red Hook area and local graffiti artwork,
as well as mural paintings I found through image searches. There was definitely a difference
between the public art around Van Brundt st., the artist area, and the pieces closer to the
Red Hook Houses. The former had the indie-styling of any arts district – inspired by the early
1900s aesthetic of Egon Schiele (later popularized by Peter Chung’s animated show, “Aeon
The style I needed to focus on was different – it was comprised of thick, clean black lines
(with a slight hand-drawn feel), colorful highlights, a curviness and forced perspective
3D-ness to the text and painted images. It’s not necessarily derivative of graffiti, but does
share a commonality with the aesthetic, combined with the color palette and surface
textures around the neighborhood. I began to see it in school murals, logos, and even
older signs around the Red Hook area. I combined this with the ubiquitous brick building
architecture (as a design platform for a range of buildings), and native flora to paint the Red
Hook landscape into the map interface.

March 28, 2012 : Community Change Workers (UX / UI / Art Style Feedback)
Becky joined me to document the user test with the Community Change Workers. I brought
along some hummus, baby carrots, chips and salsa for the test. Tony brought in some iced
tea, cups and plates. It was a nice little snack in that weird time between lunch and dinner.
I was intent on answering a few major questions to further the mapping software:

Jules Antonio, “Red Hook Graffiti,” JPG, accessed May 7, 2012, http://

is the interface intuitive (does dropping a landmark onto the map make sense)? Are
the CCWs excited to add landmarks and see what else is going on around the map? Is
the informational beneficial? Is the artistic style I settled on relevant to the Red Hook
The testing and feedback session was populated by a mixture of CCWs and some others
from RHI. The overall response was positive, and the discussion was more lively and diverse
in terms of who wanted to talk about it. “It keeps you intrigued, you want to see what else is
going on...” Khadija said, “ looks kind of cartoonish, but it’s easy, it’s relatable.” (The colors
would be later muted a bit to create a design hierarchy) “It looks so animated, it looks fun,”
Azula Crawford said.
“ looks like a game,” Tiwan Burrus said positively, when asked whether the style would
appeal to everybody in the community, “...[it] makes me want to look at it more, see what
else is going on...if it was an old style...old fashioned, with regular buildings, it wouldn’t be
so cool.”
Tony asked what else the map could do. “If you’re lost it would be very good,” Alisa said,
“...I’ve lived here 21 years and I don’t know Red Hook...I can’t tell you street [names].” Khadija
agreed, “...I’ve been here 21 years and I don’t know every block.” “I don’t know either,” Azula
said, “there are different types of blocks...the numbers on the blocks have disappeared...or
they took them off [completely].”
Later on in the conversation, Khadija said: “ will help us around Red Hook...people say
go to Poor Block, go to Sly Town, what the hell are they talking about? I don’t know where
that’s at. I don’t know them [(the areas)] like that.” “I know where I live and I know how to get
out of here,” Azula said. “Another one is Trip Towers,” Alisa said about the nickname for the
three connected housing buildings south of Coffey Park, where she lives, “I didn’t agree to
that [name]!”
Earlier, on the walk over to the test with the CCWs at RHI, Becky and I went a new route and
got lost. It was starting to rain, so I tried searching for RHI on Google Maps. Google couldn’t
find Red Hook Initiative’s address – the name is listed wrong in their database. Instead, I had

Footage shot by Becky Kazansky

Footage shot by Becky Kazansky

to navigate into RHI’s website and grab the location manually, finding our way just before it
started pouring. If only the map interface was running and I could reach the WiFi from our
There was much discussion about the B61 bus stop I put on the map, and my intention
to have it glow in some way when a bus was coming soon. I was going to just synch it up
to the official bus schedule, but I was reminded that the B61 (one of the only buses in the
area) never comes on time and barely shows up at all. Tony mentioned the new “real bus
arrival time” program the MTA is starting to roll out – there’s an API, so as soon as the B61 is
integrated into the program, bus arrivals can be synched with the community map – this
idea was welcomed adamantly by the majority of the room.
We discussed other landmarks we could put on the map – such as, places to eat and
medical offices. The idea of adding people to the map came up: “If you know where
buildings are,” Carlos said, “you should be able to know where friends are.” There’s been
a lot of comments throughout the sessions from residents about wanting to put avatars
of themselves and their friends on the map. This may be the true relationship that one
has with a digital interface that represents those core elements of The Sims – without the
ability to project oneself onto the spatial simulacrum of their immediate surroundings, a
true empathetic connection to the interface cannot mature. This would be the difference
between the self-omnipotence of Sim City versus the self-mirroring in The Sims.
After the discussion, volunteers tried out the interface for themselves. The first person
up was Carlos, who, upon selecting the “group” landmark to put on the map and a tree
popped up where he clicked, said “Oh a tree, I don’t know what that is, I don’t want a tree,”
got up and walked away. He was not expecting and greatly disliked the fact that the group
landmark was represented by a tree – an admittedly odd combination in hindsight (and has
now changed).
Upon encouragement, he came back and tried again. This time he tried to drag an activity
(represented by a star) from the landmark panel to the map. There was not a mechanic
in place to support drag and drop (just click and drop), but since this observation, I have
incorporated this feature into the interface (as it is more natural plotting gesture for map

Footage shot by Becky Kazansky

populating). He did successfully put an activity star on the map, named it “lgbtq,” and was
happy to see it show up in the ordered list and map.
Daniel was next – he dropped in what he referred to, jokingly, as his imaginary sex shop on
the other side of the freeway, in Carroll Gardens. Others in the room voiced against it, so
instead, he called the landmark “store” with the description “nice.” The map refreshed, and he
was very pleased to see that his shop was still sitting there, in Carroll Gardens.
Afterwards, Khadija tried out the interface. “It really looks like the [B]61...,” she said of the bus
stop on the map, and “...this looks like the Trip Towers” she said of a set of buildings I placed
on the map, where the Trip Towers were located. After a few problems figuring out how
to navigate (partially due to the in-progress computer code causing issues), she added a
Memory landmark for the restaurant named: “Hope & Anchor,” with the description: “A place
to eat ..Great!! Fish Tacos.,” and was excited when it showed up on the map.
“I think people are really going to like it,” Khadija said, “it needs work, but it’s fun...this is our
own little Sims in Red Hook.” Tony tried out the interface afterwards, adding a landmark
called “Valentino” near the Red Hook pier, with the description: “walk your dog here.”

Footage shot by Becky Kazansky

Over the past six months, I worked closely with the Red Hook community, in both a digital
space (through the WiFi powered, local shout box website on the roof of RHI), and in a
physical space (meetings with the Community Change Workers and Youth Radio Group at
Based on my original goals I consider this a successful thesis. The social realm of community
wireless mesh network engagement were met to a tangible degree. My intention of
creating incentives to use a local network, by addressing community needs, interests and
culture were well received and relevant to the Red Hook Housing residents. They thought
the interface was overall, very engaging.
It forged new research and practice into community wireless mesh networks, localized data
aggregation, and grassroots mapping. It has opened a dialog within the community that
the residents are genuinely interested in working with and developing into the future, as it
serves their custom tailored needs.
Based on the level of activity that was received by the shout box interface, there is evidence
that when the TidePools mapping software is broadcasted over the community WiFi, there
will be some level of adoption and usage. This might be augmented by word of mouth and
community flyering, as well as SMS integration for maximum usability and awareness.

Findings & Long Term Applications
Going forward within the Red Hook community, the need for what OTI New America calls
“digital stewards” are necessary for long term technical sustainability. These mesh gardeners
must be local to the area, ideally from the Red Hook neighborhood itself, to maintain the
networking architecture.
The “Global Innovation and Local Talent” talk at the New School, from the UNICEF team,
discussed methods and strategies in implementing SMS, or text messaging, tools in mobile
networks throughout African countries. According to Christopher Fabian of UNICEF, the
most effective, stable and long-lasting developments involved educating locals from these
communities in Python computer coding and structural network knowledge.1 This provided
autonomy to self- sustaining, interoperable technical communities, that didn’t require
further intervention other than the initial catalyst by an outside influence. Residents were
also more adept at addressing local needs and issues that unforeseeably arose.
Educating the community on networks as a whole, while teaching the most interested
members how to setup antennas and flash routers with new firmware and program their
social software will be an important factor in long-term mesh survivability. Community
networks have their own socio-political, economic and topographical issues that only a
local community could navigate and resolve.
An equally important role are those involved in continued social and community
development – listening to the needs and interests of residents, reassessing the current
physical and digital interfaces, and continuing to integrate real events and meetings to
perpetuate awareness and interest in the network. It is also important that local artists can
easily replace the landmark designs that were created for the project, to compensate for
constantly fluctuating cultural sentiments in a given area.
Past the specific Red Hook community level, long term use of TidePools across communities
can lead to an API aggregation of geospatial landmarks and community data, from
all communities, onto a global map server. As communities have specifics needs that
might be shared in other regions of the world, a community app marketplace of locally
brewed TidePools extensions, would stimulate a pan-regional, ecosystem of sharing and
Christopher Fabian, “Global Innovation and Local Talent” (lecture, The New School, New York, NY,
October 6th, 2011).

Footage shot by Becky Kazansky

Social capital, where acquired skill and participation are rewarded to user profiles on the
networked level is important for long term social capital between residents as well. The
Mozilla Open Badges initiative is a great example of how this integrates into real world
goals and learning rewards, easily fitting into a community atmosphere with social and
technical praise from others in the area. “Badges have been successfully used to set goals,
motivate behaviors, represent achievements and communicate success in many contexts,”1
as is stated in the Open Badges white paper on badges in general, is a concept carried into
gamification as well. A preview of this in the alpha TidePools build, are flowers that start
growing around landmarks the more comments it receives.

The Mozilla Foundation and The MacArthur Foundation, “Open Badges for Lifelong Learning,” (The
Mozilla Foundation, 2011), 6.

Linux router & low-powered plug server with USB storage

In the process of writing up this thesis paper and developing the software, concern was
raised by a few of the Community Change Workers about putting nicknames of the places
around the community on a public map, outside of Red Hook (in my thesis exhibit and on
my thesis website). In particular, they felt it was not acceptable that a non-member of the
community, like myself, would be populating the map with community-only information for
a thesis show.
A majority of the CCWs were actively supportive of my intentions behind mapping these
nicknames (Trip Towers, Flagpole, etc.) in direct response to what I learned from earlier
meetings (not everyone knew the locations of these places within the community, which
could help in local navigation). Both arguments were valid, so I chose to remove the
nicknames from my thesis related work hosted outside of Red Hook, while leaving it up to
the community to add nicknames they are comfortable with in their community map.

Grouping synchronous (visitor) & asynchronous (resident) interfaces

Technical Networks & Public Safety
Organic Hierarchy
Nodes and clusters with strong ties require more bandwidth to properly communicate,
while weak ties can be less prioritized. These strong ties are the “backbones” or “highways”
of traditional, centralized Internet networks – the nature of mesh networking limits the
formation of such static structures, thus an emergent, ad hoc approach to backbone
organizing1 could be addressed through studying strong ties on a network. Areas with
the highest level of communication, such as between two universities, could connect via
directional antennas, fiber optics or multi-radio routers to free up bandwidth for the rest of
the network.
Combining the human and Internet communication networks could allow for optimal
and stable network infrastructure. By metering communication between nodes and
clusters through frequency, significance, and packet size, while factoring the number of
node messages passed through before their destination, a technical and a social relations
approach to mesh communication could emerge.
Additionally, network hierarchies (human and technical) need to move past centralized and
decentralized network models, to account for informal power relations and privilege that
Jo Freeman describes in her critique of Feminist grassroots organizations.2 Galloway further
criticizes this “web of ruin” as “a new form of control, as opposed to the magnifying power of
the “chain of triumph.” 3 The ideal, may or may not be a combination of these two network
models, an organic hierarchy of checks and balances.
Public Safety and Emergency Planning
From a technical angle, it is problematic to install mesh-enabling software on users’ phones,
devices and laptops to create mobile ad hoc networks. Difficulties include ease in users
gaining “root” access to their devices, violating warranties, incompatibilities between
mesh protocols, and ease of installation/use for non- tech users. Battery life and CPU
cycle consumption are also major factors when routing other users’ traffic through the
mesh, while bandwidth optimization (to minimize the number of hops) through ad hoc
backbones is still theoretical.
Amir Esmailpour, et al, “Ad-hoc Path: an Alternative to Backbone For Wireless Mesh Networks” (University of Guelph and Ryerson University, 2007), 1.
Jo Freeman, “Tyranny of Structurelessness,” accessed December 15, 2011, http://www.jofreeman.
Alexander R. Galloway, “Critical Terms for Media Studies: Networks” (Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press, 2010), 281-293.

Mesh Network


Enabling of mesh on devices before a communication shutdown can be incentivized. It
could be as simple as creating a culture of latent sharing, in the way that donor stickers
work on driver’s licenses. This creates a social capital of readiness and awareness, if the user
is able to subtly show off their installed mesh software, or “donor card.”


In “From Face-Block to Facebook or the Other Way Around?” Apostol, et al. call on urban
planning to “encourage the creation of [Wireless Network Communities],” due to the
“capability [of WNCs] to increase social capital” and “inclusiveness.” They could be “active[ly]
operat[ed] through policy implementation and city sponsorship.” 1




Socio-technically, mesh networks increase in reliability as the number of users increases.
Until a critical mass of meshed devices is within range, the network is unreliable or nonexistent. Easily deployable or pre-installed relay nodes between well populated areas
could help quality of service. Another difficulty is ensuring that users have access to or
have already installed mesh technology on their devices, before a loss of centralized
communication services (through natural disasters, political uprisings, etc.). Otherwise, the
technology will not be able to satisfy unforeseeable, immediate needs.



Strong Tie
Weak Tie

Emergency preparedness and wireless communities are interlaced. Treating the mesh
network as a secondary layer of communication, a community must have an immediate
and well-publicized backup plan that includes wireless ubiquity, or the ability to dispatch
wireless nodes soon after a disaster or political situation. By ingraining mesh network
awareness in the culture, making it distinct but compatible with the regular Internet and
providing localized communication incentives and features, a community could be fully
autonomous after a crisis.

Ileana Apostol, Panayotis Antoniadis, and Tridib Banerjee, “From Face-Block to Facebook or the
other Way Around?” (California State Polytechnic University, University Pierre and Marie Curie, and University
of Southern California, 2008), 10.

Annotated Bibliography
Antoniadis, Panayotis et al. “Community Building over Neighborhood Wireless Mesh

Networks.” Draft accepted for publication at IEEE Technology and Society. Special

Issue on Potentials and Limits of Cooperation in Wireless Communications, March
A collaboration betwen social researchers and wireless network technicians to conceptualize
the best practices and needs for wireless mesh network communities to thrive in a completely
decentralized environment (without municipal/government/corporation support). Notable
concepts are cross-layer incentive mechanisms, the notion of the “social layer” on top of the
traditional network stack, and the need for trust, reciprocal exchange and interdepedence in a
community network.
Apostol, Ileana, Panayotis Antoniadis, and Tridib Banerjee. “From Face-Block to Facebook or

the other Way Around?” California State Polytechnic University, University Pierre and

Marie Curie, and University of Southern California, 2008.
A collaboration between social researchers and policy/community planners. As opposed to
the approach taken in “Community Building over Neighborhood Wireless Mesh Networks,” this
paper approaches the problem from the municipal angle, working with city planners to create a
grassroots and civic collaborative environment. The most notable concept is that of the hybrid
space (digital and physical interaction environments) that shapes a majoritiy of the arguments
Benkler, Yochai. “Wealth of Networks.” New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006.
A dense analysis of open source, decentralized versus closed source, centralized networked modes
of production and information economies that fuel innovation and collaboration around the
world. Notable terms of modularity and granularity bridge into analysis of emergent, interactice
Dourish, Paul and Genevieve Bell. “Divining a Digital Future: Mess and Mythology in

Ubiquitous Computing.” Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2011.
A computer scientist and culutral anthropologist propose new ways to interpret the messy
physical and ethnographic digital nature of the third wave of computing technologies known as
ubiquitous computing that permeate the world today. Interpretations of the technology draw
from sociology, politics and economics.
Forlano, Laura et al. “From the Digital Divide to Digital Excellence: Global best practices to

aid development of municipal and community wireless networks in the United

States.” New America Foundation, 2011.
An exhaustive and incredibly detailed list of nearly all past and present wireless mesh communities
around the world that have formed from grassroots, municipal and a combination of the two.
Aspects covered include original motivations to form the networks and factors leading to their
success or failure.
Freeman, Jo. “Tyranny of Structurelessness.” Accessed December 15, 2001.
An analysis of decentralized, grassroots 1970s Feminist groups and the unmentionable, informal
power and priviledge structures that indirectly influenced deciscion making. The most intriguing
argument against completely distributed network models.
Gurstein, Michael. “What is Community Informatics (and Why Does It Matter?).” Milan, Italy:

Polimetrica, 2007.
Already proving to be a very influential research area that I just discovered, Gurstein formed
the research theory area known as Community Informatics to study networked communities
as separate from traditional notions of the actor and node and how technology is assimilated/
adopted into the community atmosphere.
Kim, Amy Jo.. “Putting the Fun in Functional: Applying Game Mechanics to Functional

Software.” Slides presented at a Google Tech Talk, Mountain View, California,

January 30, 2009. 163gZI&feature=player_
An influential overview of various game mechanics as applied to social interaction software,
including set collections, social capital and intrinisc vs. extrinsic economies.
Koster, Raph. “Social Mechanics, The Engines Behind Everything Multiplayer.” Slides

presented at the Game Developers Conference, San Francisco, California, February

28-March 4, 2011.
Another influential overview of social gaming mechanics as draw from a variety of other
theoretical areas of research. Notable topics covered are clustering, weakvs. strong ties, social
status, leaderboards, rival and non-rival goods, roles, rituals and traditions, lifecycles and trust
Stephenson, Karen. “Of Human Bonding.” People Management, October 29, 1998.
An introductory article to gateways, clusters, nodes, actors and weak vs. strong ties in information
economies. This writing has helped to analyze existing weak power and communication structures
in networks in wireless communities and how these can be re-thought.

Additional Bibliography
Aguiar, Rui. Interview by author. Digital recording. Skype, New York City, October 6, 2011.

Krebs, Valdis. “Social Network Analysis, A Brief Introduction.” Orgnet (2011). Accessed October 22,


Apostol, Ileana, Panayotis Antoniadis, and Tridib Banerjee. “Places on the Net.” University Pierre and

Marie Curie, University of Southern California, 2009.

Matt. Interview by author. Digital Recording. Zucotti Park, New York City, September 25, 2011.

Bartholl, Aram. “DeadDrops.” Accessed June 14, 2011.

Mother Jones. “From Oakland to Melbourne, Over 2,000 Occupy Arrests (Map).” Accessed October

21, 2011. wall-street-protest-map.

Britannica Online Encyclopedia. “Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft.” Accessed October 21, 2011. topic/228066/Gemeinschaft-and-Gesellschaft.

NetHood. Accessed October 19, 2011.

Cooper, Mark. “From WiFi to Wikis and Open Source: The Political Economy of Collaborative

Production in the Digital Information Age.” Telecommunications & High Technology Law 5

(2007): 125-158.

Occupy Together. Accessed October 21, 2011.
Powell, Alison. “Co-productions of Technology, Culture and Policy in North America’s Community

Wireless Networking Movement.” Concordia University, 2008.

eBrainPool. Accessed September 09, 2011. ebrain.

Powell, Alison. Interview by author. Email. New York City, November 14, 2011.

Fabian, Christopher. “Global Innovation and Local Talent: The UNICEF Innovation Unit.” Lecture, The

New School, New York, NY, October 6th, 2011.

Rushkoff, Douglas. “Occupy Wall Street beta tests a new way of living.” CNN Opinion, October 25,

2011. Accessed October 25, 2011. http://www.cnn. com/2011/10/25/opinion/rushkoff-

Forlano, Laura. Interview by author. Digital recording. Joe the Art of Coffee, New York City, October

03, 2011.
Free Network Foundation. Accessed October 13, 2011. http://www.
Galloway, Alexander R. “Critical Terms for Media Studies: Networks.” Chicago and London: The

University of Chicago Press, 2010.
Kassaei, Hossein. “Virtual Backbone Formation in Wireless Ad Hoc Networks.” Master’s thesis.,
Concordia University, 2010.

Schloss, Tony. Interview by author. Digital Recording. Outpost Cafe, Brooklyn, October 25, 2011.
Stephenson, Karen. “Of Human Bonding.” People Management, October 29, 1998.
TeleHash. Accessed October 12, 2011.
The Mozilla Foundation and The MacArthur Foundation. “Open Badges for Lifelong Learning.” The

Mozilla Foundation, 2011.
Warner, Michael. “Publics and Counterpublics.” New York, NY: Zone Books, 2002.

Kazmi, Ayesha. “How Anonymous emerged to Occupy Wall Street.” The Guardian, September

26, 2011. Accessed October 23, 2011. commentisfree/

Wright, Will. “Lessons from Game Design.” Discussion at SD Forum, Computer History Museum,

Mountain View, California, November, 20, 2003.

Kim, Amy Jo.. Community building on the Web. Berkeley, CA: Peachpit Press, 2000.

ZeroConf. Accessed October 21, 2011.